Aging in place: Worth it despite challenges

Part I

Two thousand years ago, the Roman orator Cicero wrote: “Old age will only be respected if it fights for itself, maintains its rights . . . and asserts control over its own to its last breath.”

One of the greatest taboos in our society is to talk about aging and, yes, dying. I am dying. And so are you. Sorry, but it’s true. And once we can accept that growing old is the only alternative to dying young, we can begin to make the last third of our lives a positive experience.

I am of the generation that marched in the streets for women’s rights, for civil rights, for gay rights and I will not be overlooked, patronized or warehoused just because I have managed to survive into elderhood.

We need to address the most devastating problems of seniors: mobility and isolation.

We cannot cure old age, but we can ease the difficulties. Insurance companies should not be able to pick what they will cover and what they won’t. The vast majority of people over 65 need hearing aids, eyeglasses and dental care. How many older people are isolated by an inability to see or hear clearly?

We need to move the emphasis from medication to accommodation; from asking “What hurts?” to asking “How can we help?” Right now, most elder complaints are met with pain killers or anti-depressants when physical therapy or help at home would make a bigger difference to their lives.

Less than 25% of those between 65 and 75 have dementia. Don’t assume an elder is demented because they can’t figure out how to work the remote. The remotes we grew up with had only a tenth of the buttons today’s remotes have. There were only four channels! Confusion is not dementia. It is a side effect of medication and swiftly changing technologies.

I demand the right to know what and why my doctor is prescribing a drug. Was it studied in older people? Probably not; very few are. Our bodies change as we age. Drugs that work on 50 year-olds may not work the same on 65 year-olds.

Seniors are difficult. I know I am. We move more slowly and have our own particular way of doing things. This does not make us useless. We have a lifetime’s worth of knowledge and wisdom. Nearly a quarter of people over 65 remain in the workforce. Many more would work if given the opportunity. Provide us an outlet to share our lifetime of knowledge with other interested people. The Taconic Learning Center is a good example. We need to bring imagination to bear on the issue.

There is another side to senior rights: responsibilities. If you don’t take care of yourself, someone else will. You will lose your autonomy. If you don’t feed yourself nutritious food; if you don’t keep yourself, your house, your clothes reasonably clean, you will lose your autonomy. You can act like an adult or be treated like a child. That sounds harsh, but it is the truth. Legally. Just as the unsupervised childhoods of our youth would, today, get us taken away from our parents, our “lifestyle choices” can bring adult services to bear.

And speaking of legalities, if you care about your loved ones; if you care about how you are treated going forward, you have the responsibility to let your loved ones know what you want. You need to get a few essential legal documents signed before you lose the ability. Not next month or even next week. You need to stop putting it off. 

You need: a will or trust even if you think you have nothing; a healthcare proxy specifying who will speak for you if you become unable to speak for yourself; a Revocable Healthcare Directive stating what you do and don’t want done medically; a Power of Attorney so a person you trust can act for you. If you don’t want to hire a lawyer to draw up these documents, then download them from the internet, but get them notarized.

Too often seniors are seen as irrelevant, even by ourselves, because we have moved out of the fast lane. We don’t have to be. We still have power, but we have to get up in the morning to wield it. We have to fight for our rights or they will be taken from us.


Part 2 next time.

Lisa Wright divides her time between her home in Lakeville and Oblong Books in Millerton where she has worked for more than 35 years. Email her at wrightales@gmail.com.